Decision day on North Yorkshire devolution nears

Scarborough Council will next week have to decide if it is going to submit a bid to split North Yorkshire down the middle as part of a devolution bid.

Monday, 26th October 2020, 3:30 pm
Updated Monday, 26th October 2020, 3:34 pm
Scarborough Town Hall
Scarborough Town Hall

The borough council will meet on Monday November 2 to vote on the proposals with the authority’s leader, Labour’s Cllr Steve Siddons, supporting the “East and West” plan for the county.

It would see the county’s seven district councils – Scarborough, Harrogate, Ryedale, Craven, Hambleton, Selby and Richmondshire – and York split in half to create two authorities of roughly the same population size under one Mayor.

Scarborough, Ryedale, Selby and York would in one authority with Craven, Hambleton, Richmondshire and Harrogate in the other.

This plan is backed by all district council leaders.

It is opposed, however by North Yorkshire County Council, which favours one large authority for North Yorkshire, with more powers passed on to town and parish councils. City of York Council, itself already a unitary, would be left as it is and backs the county council’s plan.

The district councils’ proposal will go before each of the seven authorities this month, with only one of them needing to support it in order for it to be submitted to the government for consideration.

The district councils asked auditor KPMG to produce a report into the potential devolution options for the county.

The report, which supports the East and West model, has now been released to the public and councillors ahead of the decision-making process.

KPMG found that reorganising the county down the middle lead to significant savings.

The report states: “Local government reorganisation that incorporates York has the greatest potential for long term efficiencies. Annual efficiencies for an ‘East & West’ model are estimated to be c£33m – £56m.

“This is achievable through both future unitary authorities having the potential to operate at scale.

“Reorganisation costs for ‘East and West’ have been estimated at £29m -£39m.

“Any form of local government reorganisation will be complex, but given the level of efficiencies achievable the payback period is expected to be within two years.”

North Yorkshire County Council has previously said that its single council proposal could save £30 million per year, rising to up to £67 million a year through “transformational change”. The figures were produced by independent accountancy firm PWC.

Over five years PWC estimates that the districts’ plan would only deliver 60% od the savings of the North Yorkshire proposal.

The KPMG report for the districts highlights the difference in population size that both models would bring.

The East and West plan would create two authorities with populations of approximately 360,000 and 460,000. The North Yorkshire and York plan would have one authority with more than 600,000 people and another, York, with 210,000.

The KPMG report says this would create an imbalance and cause issues with the elected Mayor.

It adds that under the county plan one of the authorities would be setting policies for 75% of the population of North Yorkshire and York and would cover 97% of the geographic area.

The report concludes: “The Mayor in a future Combined Authority will have just two unitary authorities, making the balance of this relationship critical for the

successful governance of the area and delivery of devolution powers.

“A situation where there is a clear dominant authority could result in a situation where a mayor is hampered in their ability to ensure that decision-making and the allocation of funding is fair and equitable, and for the interests of the population of the whole Combined Authority.”

KPMG says that the East and West model would “unlock” the potential of York and allowing it to address key challenges around housing delivery, capacity and improvement of children’s services.

North Yorkshire County Council’s children’s services are recognised as being “outstanding” by Ofsted, and KPMG says this could be used to address issues found by the inspecting body when it visited York in 2019.

Should Scarborough Council, or any of the districts, back the East and West model it will only be submitted to the government if North Yorkshire County Council submits its single council bid.

In a report prepared do Scarborough councillors next Monday it states that there are strong feelings that devolution should be put off while the Covid-19 pandemic is ongoing.

The report adds: “The district councils remain of the view that this is not the time for reorganisation.”

The outline proposals must be submitted to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government by November 9, with the final, full proposal by December 9.